Monday 19 October 2015

RIP Book I: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Counting Brave New World for the RIP challenge is a bit of a joke because I started reading it in... June/July/August/a summer month where everything got a bit mushy because I was dissertating. As is my current pace of reading, I actually finished it last week, and oh man. It's so good.

So. A mini-tale. After my first meeting with my dissertation supervisor, I left past all the other English department offices and from one of them I heard this little exchange: 'So what do you want to write your dissertation on?' 'dystopian novels'. At this point, I don't think I'd even had time to finish any kind of novel since February (this was May) but this one remark set my soul on fire and made me want to go 'ME TOO!' Shakespeare be damned, and holy shit why did I even do an entire Masters on Shakespeare when my area of speciality is the 20th Century Novel?


Anyway. The point is that I was reminded how much I love a dystopia, and since the title Brave New World comes from The Tempest AND I had already read it, I figured I was allowed to read it as 'Shakespeare research' and not feel too naughty about it. And I think I must have forgotten how good it is because, I mean, it's pretty amazing. Brave New World is set in a world where Henry Ford is considered the supreme being, his production line method being the ultimate example for all facets of life in the dystopia. Babies are no longer born but created in test tubes, each foetus being given various chemicals and vitamins to determine if they will be a Delta, used for menial tasks, all the way up to alphas, who have a greater level of intelligence, but are as subject to the system as the Deltas.

Everything in this society is built to be consumed and thrown away, casual sex is hugely encouraged but parenthood is forbidden (prevented by the mass consumption of birth control), meaning that any close or non-shallow relationships between people is widely discouraged. It's a world where 'everyone belongs to everyone' and where everything is disposable and in many ways it's frighteningly close to today's society, just as all good dystopias should be. The way the past world, our world is seen in Brave New World is, in a sense, in taking things too seriously, that,

"Their world didn't allow them to take things easily, didn't allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, what with the prohibitions they were not conditioned to obey, what with the temptations and the lonely remorses, what with all the diseases and the endless isolating pain, what with all the uncertainties and the poverty-they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly (and strongly, what was more, in solitude, in hopelessly individual isolation), how could they be stable?"
Brave New World attacks these problems in modern life by ensuring that no one is alone, that no one feels anything too strongly, and if they do, there's a handy little pill called soma (which, to be fair, sounds amazing, and which is, quite upsettingly, the brand name of a muscle relaxant) that allows you to take a holiday from day-to-day life, which has already been sanitised so much as to not have any meaning anymore.

Brave New World is more than just world building, and its narrative is centred around one man's struggle to accept and fit into the world he has found himself in, as all good dystopias should be. What is especially interesting about Bernard, the sort-of hero of Brave New World, however, is that his dislike for the system is fairly soon revealed to be more of a general dislike for not fitting in, and when he is accepted more into people's lives, his hatred for his society fades almost completely. Compelling as this narrative is, however, it fades in relation to the terrifying and all too real society the novel takes place in, and as a result of this, Huxley seems completely comfortable letting Bernard's narrative fall to the side in many cases, and focusing in on the details of this society that are especially and completely fucked.

So. Although I am predisposed to like a good dystopia, I do really think that Brave New World is an exceptional one. More so than even 1984, the warnings it carries are completely relevant to today, and sometimes too close for comfort in terms of what are considered good ways to act and live. It's one of my very favourite dystopias, but more than that, I think it might be another one of those books that silently helped to form some of my deepest held ideas, about things like consumerism, drugs and just generally about the importance of maybe not being happy all the time, about letting the things that affect you ACTUALLY affect you rather than just ignoring them. The new world in Huxley's novel is practically the opposite of brave, but the living the way we do, with feelings? That might just be the bravest thing we can do.

Thursday 15 October 2015

The Monkalong, Part Three: "Pusillanimity" and Other Words I Should Probably Know...

Apparently we're still monking (auto-correct just changed that to mocking, to which I say... Well, ok then) along and I wouldn't say I'm losing the will to live because of this book, but it didn't help my desire for living when combined with the raging tonsillitis I'm dealing with this week (woo, autumn! Damn everything.) HOWEVER, it would be churlish to be too mean about this week's section since no one went on about things that were wholly irrelevant to the plot for 10,000 pages so technically things are looking up!

I mean, apart from the fact that a deal has been made with the devil (literally, the devil) so that a Monk can rape a teenager who may or may not be his sister. That's possibly not such a good aspect of this book. And may be one of the worst things I've heard. Like ever. In life.

UGH, what even happened in this section? Ok, so Ambrosio like really likes sex. Like really really really he has found his favourite thing in the whole world, and that favourite thing is sex.
Obviously, he's already getting bored of Matilda because men are inconstant whilst women are clingy, but that doesn't stop more of the sexing, "The luxurious and unbounded excesses of the former night were renewed, and they separated not until the bell rang for matins." because obviously he's going to do it all night now that he understands the difference between men and women's bodies. Obviously.

Especially creepy (and creepiness is kind of the hallmark of their relationship) between Matilda and Ambrosio is the way in which she so easily offers to get him Antonia, as if getting him the woman he desires is the way to keep him. HAVE SOME SELF-RESPECT, MATILDA (but also, like, don't arrange another lady's rape, mmmmkay?) Obviously Matilda is a devil-worshipper (or, more accurately, someone who is IN CHARGE of the devil) because as a strong and intelligent woman, she obviously has the power of hell behind her because why wouldn't she? Of course, Ambrosio doesn't find her intelligence sexually attractive, cause YAWN: "Every moment convinced him of the astonishing powers of her mind; but what she gained in the opinion of the man, she lost with interest in the affection of the lover" and even makes a sweeping generalisation about all women that doesn't make me want to stab things at all: "Pity is a sentiment so natural, so appropriate to the female character, that it is scarcely a merit for a woman to possess it, but to be without it is a previous crime."
I meaaaan... Generalise much, Lewis? Goddamn 18th Century with its 18th Century ideas about women and class and goddamn everything.

Let's see, what else... Well, Leonella! She got married! To which all I can say is, you go girl! I guess. I mean, it's not exactly the MOST romantic union since she kind of bought the guy and all, but since this book has taught us nothing if not that sex is the most important thing, then at least Leonella isn't an old lady virgin anymore. And Agnes probably isn't dead! You know, yet. I can't tell if this book is about to have a fairytale ending where the REALLY bad guys (the monk and the devil-monk-lady) go to hell and Agnes and whatshisname and Antonia and thatguy get to go off and get married, or if, essentially, like a Shakespearean tragedy, everyone's going to die in the end. I honestly don't know, isn't it exciting?! (no).

Of course, the bloody nun ghost could just as easily come back and kill them all through lack of sleep, WHO CAN SAY?! No one. Except us in a couple of weeks, I guess.

Saturday 10 October 2015

The Monkalong, Part Two: "though all are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them."

Heyyyyy, did I miss the party?
Literally what our parties would look like if you added laptops

My deepest apologies for the late readalong post, I had an issue where, immediately after reading last weeks chapters I REALLY wanted to read the next but thought it was too early, and then found I didn't have time to read them to actually make the post happen on Thursday so... The moral of the story is, read when you bloody feel like it, I guess.

NOW. It may just have been me, but this week's chapters made me want to die a little bit. I mean... Don Raymond, Marquis De Las Cisternas. You may have managed to seduce Agnes, but did the woman ever hear you tell a story? Because, damn. "Hi, I'm Ray and I'm going to tell you how I seduced Agnes but FIRST let me tell you FOR A WHOLE CHAPTER how I came to meet her by telling you this whole other story and" oh my god dude, literally no one cares. Like, no one. At all.
I mean, ok I get it. I do. Matthew Lewis is doing his whole sensational thing, and what's more sensational than a murdery robbery plot? (that's what was going on there, right?) Nothing like a massive narrative deviation to make you not give a shit about a book, that's what I say! But anyway. We got back to Agnes and Ray and I'm starting to think that Lewis had this whole life issue where older women were kiiiiind of into him
Maggie Smith MUST be into him, she's only human

Not only does he have Leonella ready to give up her old lady virginity for... that guy (honestly, I'm paying a lot of attention to this!), he also has Agnes's aunt ready to jump Ray's bones because of the super genius plan of his to pay her loads of attention because he wants to marry her niece. Of course, Donna Rodolpha is clearly insane, and it's this emotional women's shit (how much emotional women's shit IS there in this book, exactly?!) that finishes her off: "Five months had already elapsed since, in an excess of passion, she broke a blood vessel and expired in the course of a few hours."

SHE GOT SO UPSET SHE BROKE A BLOOD VESSEL, is that even a real thing?! Like, come on dude! 

Anyway. Agnes is reportedly dead, and I'm all like, 'well, IS she though?' but my scepticism is kind of broken by the fact that surely, SURELY a nun can't ignore a direct order from the pope. There are probably all kinds of things being revealed in the poems but I obviously can't read them because why the hell should I, and oh my god can we please just get back to the Monk and his descent into sin please? Thank you, Matthew. Cheers. 

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Comic Books I Have Devoured in the Last Year, For Posterity

I feel like all I've done this year is read comics, but a close examination of my reading diary (awww yeah nerdy as hell) tells me that, Shakespeare offshoots and volumes of The Sandman (AND Watchmen, which I loved so much I actually managed to properly review!) aside , I've actually only read three. Which is way more than I would have read most other years, so there you go. I had this theory for my birthday that I should ask for a lot of comic books because 1) I never buy them for myself cause they're too expensive, and 2) Even though I had no time to read, I would have time to read comics because they take like an hour (well, some of them do). That didn't really happen because, I mean, dissertations take up a lot of time, you know? But that basically just means that I now have a load of comic books to read, and in no world is that a bad thing.

Here are some feels about the ones I have read:

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
I have a weird relationship with the movie Ghost World because I'm never quite sure if I like it or not, and the same kind of went for the comic. I'm just realising as I write this that my main problem might be that I want Enid to basically be Daria, and... She is not Daria. Anyway. The comic book is quite different from the film in ways I can't entirely remember now, but I do remember thinking the comparison was interesting and I wanted to make some, so... That's very helpful (I'm so sorry, this is a fucking train wreck). ANYWAY. I think the thing I have mostly learnt about Ghost World is that I'm never quite going to relate to its characters, not only because I'm just not quite that mean, but also because I'm not a teenager anymore. If I had been, I'm sure it would have been very inspirational, but as it is... Not so much. Still, I always enjoy Ghost World in its various forms, so it's worth a read.

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
I genuinely have no recollection of first hearing about Lighter Than My Shadow, but I have always thought the title is excellent and it fulfils so many things I want from a book. This is a graphic novel memoir (FAVOURITE) about eating disorders (PSYCHOLOGY: FAVOURITE) and the drawings are everything that I want and it's just so bloody brilliant. At over 500 pages, I think it's the biggest comic I've ever read, and don't get me wrong, it's difficult to hold; but it's well worth the arm strain. Green is very insightful into her own experiences, and, I can only assume, very honest, and it all makes for a very interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, read.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
If I liked the other two comics here, then I loooooved Relish. I can't think of a single thing I didn't like about this book, and there is so much in it to love. Relish is another graphic novel memoir, but it's more of a retelling of important moments in Knisley's life centring around food. The drawings are perfect (for the kind of drawings that I want to see, anyway) and there are even recipes at the end of each chapter so you can actually try the food that Knisley is talking about, as if you couldn't practically taste it already from her descriptions. Writing about it is actually making me want to read it again quite badly, and I don't think it'll be long before I'm flicking through it again, and maybe even making some of the recipes, who knows! But seriously, if you like comics, and if you like food, then it's pretty important that you read this book.

Thursday 1 October 2015

The Monkalong, Part One: "Her manner evidently showed that she knew not what she was about"

I have a troubled history with the 18th Century Novel, in that I once had to do a module on them for my BA (I honestly love having to distinguish between my BA and MA now, you're gonna have to tell me if it gets annoying...) and they are the WORST. As in, the actual worst novels I've ever read. They're worse than you can even imagine, unless you've read Pamela too, and then you will understand the huge desire to die that the novel encourages in people.

But anyway. The point is that because of my crippling fear and hatred of the 18th century novel, I was not thaaaat excited to read The Monk, much as I was excited to be Monkingalong, because FIRST READALONG IN A YEAR, AW YEAHHHHHH! I started reading The Monk on the way to Canterbury, and was apparently very much not in the mood for it cause when I re-read those, like, 5 pages last night, I remembered none of the things that had happened, and then I kept reading and SHIT GOT REAL! 
Only I was MORE excited than Jesse

So. I mean. This book is ridiculous, right? Like, any number of mythical beings could show up and I wouldn't be at all surprised, except that I'd actually be hugely surprised because I ALREADY HAVE BEEN LIKE 3 TIMES. I think I already need to get more coherent because I am getting overwhelmed with the ridiculous of everything. HANG ON. 

Ok, I'm good. So. The excellence of the first chapter of The Monk clearly lies with the aunt who apparently has no ability to read social situations, has a firm belief in her ability to charm men, and does that annoying thing of 'why don't you say anything girl?' 'but Aunt, I-' 'DON'T INTERRUPT ME!' Obviously, I'm kind of in love with her. Antonia seems like a dull dull heroine like Laura from The Woman in White, but we're probably not far enough into the book to say that yet... The blonde pretty ones ARE always dull though. The fact that Lewis seems to admire her silence kind of says it all too, "she was wise enough to hold her tongue. As this is the only instance known of a woman's ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here." I MEAN, REALLY?! RUDE.

The second chapter is really where it's all at though. A pregnant nun! A naughty Monk! CROSS-DRESSING!!! Ambrosio is kind of a douche, am I right? I mean, "he is reported to be so strict an observer of chastity that he knows not what consists the difference between men and women"
However. I am almost inclined to believe it since the sight of ONE MERE BOOB was enough to start all of his sexual motors and to almost turn the end of chapter two into a Mills and Boon style bodice ripper. Imagine if she'd shown him two boobs? He'd probably have died. Anyway. His righteousness over making sure Agnes is punished becomes hypocrisy when he gets to have the sex, only of course he's a man so won't be punished for it, and Matilda is dying so can't get pregnant, so everybody wins! Except feminism. Feminism does not win.

To conclude: Shakespeare. Have we noticed some Shakespeare happening, people? I'm sure the Shakespearean quote that the novel starts with means something but I have no idea what, and Lewis definitely stole the cross-dressing device from him/theatre in general, but I REALLY LIKE how it was used here because I am so used to characters explaining that they are going to dress like a man* that I was genuinely surprised at Matilda's confession. Like honestly, I just thought Rosario (was that her man name? I can't be bothered to find the book...) was going to tell Ambrosio he was gay for him because I got THAT vibe, at least, but then BOOM- Surprise, I'm a man! Amazing shit.

So anyway. Aside from the songs/poems that I definitely skipped, I am INTO this whole Monk thing. ONWARDS.

*Although not always WHY and that intrigued me so much that I wrote a whole essay on it BOOM applicable Shakespeare